SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN): A 41-year-old housewife who starved, tortured and ultimately killed her domestic worker from Myanmar stared blankly into space as she was sentenced to 30 years' jail on Tuesday (June 22).
In sentencing Gaiyathiri Murugayan, High Court judge See Kee Oon said: "Words cannot describe the abject cruelty of the accused's appalling conduct."
He described the case as "among the worst type of culpable homicide", noting that the victim was made to suffer agonising harm for a long time before she died.
The judge said that while the sentence should "signal societal outrage and abhorrence", the fact that Gaiyathiri was suffering from a psychiatric condition that affected her judgment cannot be ignored.
He noted that Gaiyathiri had four previous domestic helpers who did not lodge any reports against her and did not appear to be a pathologically violent person.
Gaiyathiri had pleaded guilty in February to 28 charges. The most serious was culpable homicide, for which prosecutors had sought the maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The other charges were mostly hurt-related offences involving varying degrees of physical abuse she inflicted on 24-year-old Piang Ngaih Don, who weighed a mere 24kg when she died on July 26, 2016, from the final assault.
Another 87 charges were taken into consideration.
In sentencing arguments on Tuesday, defence counsel Joseph Chen, who took over the case from Gaiyathiri's previous lawyers in March, sought a jail term of eight to nine years.
Chen painted his client as a mentally disordered mother who had just given birth and was struggling to cope with her children's illnesses, which she believed were caused by the maid's poor hygiene.
Gaiyathiri, whose two children are now aged nine and six, was assessed to have developed major depressive disorder while she was pregnant with her second child. She also had obsessive compulsive personality disorder.
"It was a combination of stressors that led to her evolving from a non-maid abuser to a maid abuser," Chen said.
"She has gone back to her previous self as a non-maid abuser," he added.
He asked the court to place more weight on rehabilitation so that there would be a "healing effect" for her and other mothers suffering from postnatal depression.
Chen said his client was remorseful for what she had done and that she regretted that Piang had been unable to reach out for help.
He also sought a gag order on the publication of her name to protect her children from stigmatisation.
However, Deputy Public Prosecutor Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir countered: "A mental disorder is not a free pass."
He noted that Gaiyathiri's condition was the reason the charge for killing Ms Piang was reduced from murder.
"This is a shocking case without parallel," said the DPP, who described Gaiyathiri's conduct as "cruel and heinous".
He took issue with Gaiyathiri trying to blame Piang's hygiene, when many of her offences had nothing to do with cleanliness.
"The violence is a function of the accused viewing the victim as a lesser human being," said the prosecutor. He sought at least 27 years' jail, if a life term was not imposed.
Piang, who started working for the family on May 28, 2015, was assaulted almost daily for months.
The incidents in the last month of her life were captured on surveillance cameras that Gaiyathiri and her then husband, Kevin Chelvam, a policeman, had installed in their Bishan flat.
The couple finalised their divorce on Jan 13 last year.
Surveillance footage showed Gaiyathiri pouring cold water on her domestic helper, slapping, pushing, punching, kicking and stomping on her.
She was also seen hitting the maid with objects, pulling her by the hair and shaking her violently, burning her with a heated iron and choking her.
The maid's meals often comprised sliced bread soaked in water, cold food straight from the refrigerator or some rice at night.
She was also made to shower with the toilet door open.
In the last 12 days of her life, she was tied to the window grille at night while she slept on the floor.
Chelvam, 42, who was suspended from service on Aug 8, 2016, faces multiple charges in connection with the abuse of Piang. Gaiyathiri's mother, Prema S. Naraynasamy, 62, who often stayed with the couple in the flat, was also charged in 2016.
Their cases are pending in court. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network